What is in this article?:
• "On our hill land, for non-irrigated production, I don’t think there’s a better crop than cotton," says Oxford, Miss. grower Don Waller, who at 81 is looking forward to another crop this year.
• "With no-till, Roundup Ready technology, and stacked trait varieties, I think we can grow it here in the hills cheaper than anywhere in Mississippi. For me, it’s by far the least risky crop option."
AT AGE 81, Don Waller is looking forward to another year of growing cotton on his farm in north Mississippi.
Concern for cotton infrastructure
“The big factor is the potential loss of important infrastructure. We need for there to be enough cotton to keep our gins, warehouses, dealers and suppliers, repair shops, etc., in business. I believe cotton will come back — it will just take time to work out from under the over-supply situation we’re in. I hope all these infrastructure components can hold on until that happens.”
Even before he started farming on his own in 1954, Waller’s life was centered around cotton.
“I was born just down the road from here. My father, Percy Waller, farmed here, and I grew up helping out on the farm. We were plowing with mules and still had sharecropper families living on the farm. We chopped out weeds by hand, picked the cotton by hand. There were years the boll weevil took a heavy toll on the crop. But we managed to hang on.
“We had maybe 100 acres of cotton and grew some corn for the mules. In most years, we’d make a half-bale to three-quarters bale. I don’t know how we made the yields we did. When we were first able to mount sprayers on tractors and spray for the boll weevil, things got somewhat better.”
Even when he was going to school at Ole Miss, Waller says, “I kept farming — I scheduled all my classes in the morning so I could do farm work in the afternoons.
“The Wallers have been here a long time. My grandfather, Morgan Waller, bought land and settled here in 1904. After he died, my father later bought the 360-acre home place from his estate. When my late wife, Patsy, and I married, we lived in my grandfather’s house. In later years, we moved it elsewhere on the farm and built a new house.”
When Waller began farming full time, he and his father formed a partnership. “Over the years I’ve bought my uncle’s place and other land here and there, and I also rent some land from the Corps of Engineers near Sardis Lake. I’m now farming in five different locations, but five miles is the farthest I have to travel to any of the farms.”
In 1977, Waller says, his wife, who had held a county elective office for many years, was looking for a career change, and “we saw a need for another funeral home to serve the area.
“We started Waller Funeral Home, which she managed, and I helped out as needed. It was a tough business to get started, and the struggles we had were as demanding as anything on the farm. But with her hard work, it became successful and now is an integral part of this community.
“After her death, our daughter, Beth Rosson, and her husband, Bob, took it over and now operate it. Their son, my grandson Brett, works there too, but he also works with me here on the farm. He understands all the computer, GPS, and other technology. Two funeral home workers also help here on the farm at planting, harvest, and other times.”
The evolution of machinery, chemicals, varieties, and production systems during his farming years has been nothing short of astounding, Waller says. “Those advancements changed farming for everyone.
“Our first mechanical picker was a 1-row International Harvester that we bought used. I remember to this day going to pick it up south of Memphis and driving it back to the farm. People along the highway would stop and look at it — it was such an unusual sight in those days.